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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Directors Selling Out

I had a long discussion the other day with my buddy Jack about how disappointed I was that Darren Aronofsky was going to be making the sequel to Wolverine as his next film.  Part of me understands that Aronofsky has made his first five films for no money – and probably didn’t make much money himself.  He even said at one point that he was tired of being the only person in the room that wants to make a movie and that with the Wolverine sequel, there are many people at the studio that want him to make this movie.  I get all that and I can even respect that.

But I can’t put him in the same tier as Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson or Lukas Moodysson, who make the films they want to make.  I think there’s certainly a paucity of original voices out there and I can’t help but think that when one of them chooses a comic book project, that’s one less original film they might have made.  It takes years to make a movie and I would rather those years be spent on projects that don’t have the ceiling of a big blockbuster film or comic book movie.  This goes for David Fincher, too, by the way.  I happen to think he’s one of the five best directors working today, but he’s also made Alien 3, Panic Room and the upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, so I can’t really put him on the level of those original filmmakers either.

I thought about all this today with the news that Gareth Edwards, director of one of the underrated films of the year Monsters, is attached to make yet another version of Godzilla.  To me, it just seems like such a waste of talent.  Edwards has already made that movie and made it better because he didn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal.  I couldn’t wait to see how he was going to follow up Monsters; now, I feel like shrugging.

The point is: do you think Terrence Malick would make a Batman movie?  Do you think Woody Allen would have directed Godzilla?  Is Harmony Korine ever going to make a movie like Harry Potter or Twilight?

What do you think, am I off-base here?  Who are some filmmakers who would never make a “sell out” film?

17 Responses to “Directors Selling Out”

  1. Dan says:

    I’m not sure it’s fair to call “Alien 3″ a sell-out film. Fincher’s music video work got him the job, which in turn let him make “Seven.” He proved his chops, and as a result, studios were more willing to cut him bigger checks and let him take his vision to material that more closely suited his interests and skills.

  2. James says:

    Aronofsky said something on NPR along the lines of Black Swan – I’m the only one in the room who wants to make that movie. Wolverine – EVERYONE in the room wants to make that movie. Can you blame him for not jumping at that? Woody Allen has a SWEETHEART grandfathered in deal where he can make anything. Aronofsky has to fight to get movies made and then only at severe budget cuts.

    Studios want to make movies not films. Can’t blame a guy for wanting to make a living.

    PT Anderson cant even get his next movie made. Think he’s happy?

  3. established 1962 says:

    surprised you didn’t mention “Tru Grit” in the discussion. I would like to see Gaspar Noe make a Godzilla reboot.

    Scorsese could be said to have sold out on “Shutter Island” (could…) (or The Departed, or Shine a Light)

    Altman and Popeye.

    Werner has even sold out this year.

    Lynch is possibly the only filmmaker to not sellout (The Straight Story, though, is an interesting argument)

    Aronofsky has always struck me as a filmmaker who was bound to “sell out”— I seem to remember that write up he did for NYT about GTA3.

    Malick is the purist here. Your other examples don’t even hold up— Woody Allen’s entire 90’s output could be seen as “selling out” (in terms of his output and his work schedule, every movie is a sell out in some ways for him). And Harmony Korine has never had the opportunity to sell out: no way to tell whether he would or not.

  4. Keil Shults says:

    “Selling out” is fine with me, as long as the end result is a really good one. In fact, if the final product is good, can you really call it selling out?

    Greengrass took on the Bourne sequels and delivered some of the best action films of the past decade.

    Alfonso Cuaron delivered one of the best entries in the Harry Potter series, if not THE best.

    And let us not forget Christopher Nolan and his Batman installments.

    Some might have seen adapting children’s stories like Where the Wild Thing Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox as selling out, although finally seeing the films made it clear the directors had followed their own visions, even if it meant sacrificing mainstream appeal in the process.

    And as that last example suggests, “selling out” is a relative term. Someone might claim that Lynch sold out by making a straightforward movie like The Straight Story, because it seemed to be the complete opposite of his typically bizarre style. But can anyone honestly consider making a feature-length drama about an old man crossing the country on a tractor a form of selling out?

    I will say that it bummed me out to read that Aronofsky was taking on the next Wolverine film, largely because I haven’t been a huge fan of the X-Men films in general, and the first Wolverine film in particular. But I’m holding out hope that Aronofsky will do something with the character that makes me sit back and become thoroughly engrossed in the material.

    It’s also not fair that people like Aronofsky or Cuaron have to be subjected to the “sell-out” label when guys like Michael Bay avoid it altogether by simply being schlockmeisters from the get-go.

  5. christian says:

    Some of you should know that THE STRAIGHT STORY is one of Mynch’s most experimental films – a G-Rated Disney meditation.

  6. Josh says:

    So your saying all directors, in order to be good, have to do low budget films for the rest of their lives?

    I also think you should read the 4 issue story arc ‘The Wolverine’ will be based on, definitely Darren Aronofsky material.

  7. christian says:

    “Mynch” = Lynch. Thank you.

    And it ain’t selling out if the director wants to actually do the script or story.

  8. established 1962 says:

    there is NOTHING wrong with “selling out” (ESPECIALLY if that means “true grit” or “the straight story” or “Inside Man” or whatever!)

    selling out is part of life, if it wasn’t we would all wind up as either some artist who burnt out at a young age or some aging hipster who can’t realize that art isn’t just for him or herself.

    i find it interesting that we haven’t come up with a euphamism for this type of selling out. There are obviously the directors that whore themselves out for money constantly (though soderbergh is like the 4.0 english major who strips on the side). What’s interesting is that the only way for a director to be actually relevant is for there to be a discussion of said director selling out. You aren’t going to have that discussion for the strictly arthouse directors, nor the lowest common denomenator ones. The discussion only happens to the directors in the middle, and that is where the most work needs to be done in terms of quality and budget on average joe theater screens. directors like scorsese and aronofsky making a dent on everyman filmgoers is what is truly important in advancing the popular episteme. so selling out is kind of just like cashing in on the directors hopes of the average persons interests. that’s a little too long for a nice little euphamism— but you get the point.

  9. hcat says:

    Do you only feel this way about directors or do you have the same standard for actors? Craig did wonderful work in small films, did he sell out by being Bond? For Dragon Tatoo? Does Denzel sell out by working in action movies as opposed to doing drama over and over again?

    I am not a fan of the glut of superhero films but Arnofsky is actually a brillant choice for Wolverine. If he can deliver an action film with an undercurrent of Cronenbergian body horror that is natural for the charecter, more power to him.

    Everyone laments that the studio go too often to Bay and Ratner, but then when they give a film to an actual filmmaker you cry foul.

    as for 1962, with the possible exception of O13, I can’t think of an instance where Soderbergh has ‘Sold Out.’ I think he is making exactly the movies he wants to make, the way he wants to make them, and it comes through onscreen that he is having a blast doing it.

  10. Noah Forrest says:

    See, hcat, I never lament when Michael Bay or Brett Ratner do films like Rush Hour or Transformers. I might question why those films need to be made at all, but I’m happy that Bay and Ratner are busy making those films rather than given the reins of something that might actually be good had they not been involved. So, hell, I hope they keep making Transformers and Rush Hour movies just so Ratner and Bay will stay away from good projects.

    I don’t hold actors to the same standard, though, because an actor can make three or four films a year; a director cannot. Directors taking on a project means that that filmmaker will be busy for at least 18 months, probably longer (unless you’re Woody Allen).

    But the truth is that I think “selling out” is a silly term and I should have put it in quotes throughout this post. I understand why a director like Aronofsky wants to make money and I can’t blame him because I might very well do the same. But there’s a difference between art and commerce and I selfishly would rather he continue to be an artist rather than a commercial director.

    P.S. As for The Straight Story, that’s not a sell-out film at all. In fact, it might be my favorite Lynch film; poignant, heartbreaking, and beautiful.

  11. hcat says:

    “I understand why a director like Aronofsky wants to make money and I can’t blame him because I might very well do the same.”

    You are assigning a completly mercenary motivation for Aronofsky to do Wolverine. He had been attached at previous times to Batman and Robocop. Judging from his work in The Fountain, big budget action might be where he wants to spend some time. He will be able to work with more images and perhaps with more freedom since in a lot of ways the mall audience is less discerning and judgemental than the cinefile crowd.

  12. Noah Forrest says:

    “Judging from his work in The Fountain, big budget action might be where he wants to spend some time.”

    His work in The Fountain doesn’t really speak to the idea of his wanting to be a big-time action filmmaker. It’s a love story that has little to no action besides two or three small scenes in the conquistador section.

    As for your assertion that just because Aronofsky was attached to other potential blockbuster movies before, then he’s not merely motivated by money now; well, I would argue almost the exact opposite. I’d say he’s wanted to make money for a while, but things kept falling apart or he wasn’t swayed enough from doing the projects he actually cared about. I’m not blaming him for doing this and I’m trying to guess intent based on filmography, which is a fool’s errand probably. But if you put all of Aronofsky’s movies in a row, including Wolverine, and asked which of these films is not like the other, I think the answer would be pretty clear.

  13. hcat says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear about the Fountain, I should have said if you look at it as working on a larger canvas The Fountain is closer to Wolverine than the others. But you are right that Wolverine is a change in direction, I think some of us are just saying you shouldn’t guess his intentions for the change in course.

    Now for me Dragon seems to be a larger change in direction. He has done thrillers before but none of them have really descended to the level of the type of airport reading that Dragon Tattoo is. Now I have no doubt that he can raise the level of the material, but the question is how much? This is his third movie dealing with a serial killer but his earlier two were hardly the routine programers that this seems destined to be.

  14. James says:

    I see it two ways:

    1. Aronofsky really wanted to make a samurai movie, as his previous passion to make a new Lone Wolf and Cub movie several years ago can attest to, as well as his outspoken love for old Kurosawa films. He’s going to have a lot of fun with this one.

    2. The two-film deal with Fox Filmed Entertainment will allow him to give us something really special and unique after The Wolverine. The deal is for two films, one with Fox and one with Searchlight, and it’s pretty much guaranteed funding for something that he may not have been able to get the money for. Maybe his Noah’s Ark project? That’s what I really want to see.

    So, he has sold out to an extent. But he sold out so he can continue making the movies we all love him for.

  15. bryan says:

    Aronofsky was attached to the Robocop remake, Batman: Year One, and Superman. Signing on to direct Wolverine doesn’t make you a sellout. David Fincher is not a sellout, either. Alien 3 scarred Fincher deeply, and shook what little confidence he had left in big-budget filmmaking. You cite Panic Room as an example of SELLING OUT? If anything, I’d consider BENJAMIN BUTTON a bigger sell out, just because he was pandering to the Academy, instead of making them adapt to him (The Social Network).

    Is Terry Gilliam a sell out? What about Joel and Ethan Coen?

    There used to be a time when ROBERT DENIRO wouldn’t appear on a multiplex screen that shared proximity with Billy Crystal or Ben Stiller. If you want to bemoan people selling out, I’d recommend starting with actors. Michael Caine admits Jaws: The Revenge (which he’s never seen) is, by all accounts, horrible – but the house that it paid for is quite lovely. Get the point?

  16. cuntman says:

    I own all Korine’s films, and they are great and unique, but lets face it. He couldn’t made a commercial film even if he tried. At least Aronofsky will bring some ‘art’ (I hope!) to the genre. I feel like most superhero films are primarily made for selling toys, just look at the Captain America photos which are emerging.

  17. Truthteller says:

    You come across as quite a pretentious douche just by labeling people as “sell outs”. All forms of art are subjective. Get over yourself.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin